Teach Your Teens About Credit And Reports

By: Lois Center-Shabazz

We are failing our children in one of the most important areas of life. But, if more parents and schools understood the significance of credit reports and early credit education, that could be fixed. The credit failures and bankruptcy rates in the United States would decrease dramatically.

After speaking to a group of college students last year I ask the question, "How many of you have checked your credit report?" No one raised his or her hand. Then I asked how many of you know what a credit report is? No one raised his or her hand. Then, after a moment of silence one student ask, "Does it have to do with things you charge?" I said, "Yes, you are on the right track." Then I ask, "How many of you have discussed credit or charging merchandise with your parents?" No one raised his or her hands.

I have spoken to many young adults at lectures and women's shows. Many of the financial concepts they embrace have disturbed me and should disturb most parents who read this.

In a conversation with one young adult college student I spoke to, she told me she understood credit, but expressed concern for her high school sisters inability to understand money and credit, often confusing the two. She became concerned when her sister, who is a high school senior, did not understand that $75,000 was too much to pay for a car. Her sister repeatedly asked her middle-income parents to purchase the car for her on credit. She also expressed her concern for her parents inability to explain why purchasing the car was not an option for her sister or them.

She then went on to explain that her sisters private high school offers a class in Personal Finance and Money Management, but the school makes it an easy class which diminishes its significance to the students and parents. To make it worse her Dad told her it was not necessary information and he did not want her to take the class. He felt she did not need personal finance, money and credit management.

The above scenarios demonstrate the lack of commitment to financial management education in high schools, colleges, and at home. In high school and college, we take many difficult classes we never use. I took a lot of math in high school and college, up to two years of Calculus in college. I have yet to find the need to use integers, linear algebra, matrices, or complex geometric equations since college graduation.

After being forced to manage graduate school loans and a large business loan without large scale money management skills, I realized I needed formal education in this field. My money management skills were way below average, but over the years I perfected them and overcame my debt management deficiency. With the lack of formal education in this field, my deficient money management skills came at a cost, and took a significant number of years to develop into the high level of money management skills I have today. No one prepared me for the level of management I would need to manage my college loans, business loan, and personal living expenses for a bright financial future.

Are we failing our kids in the area of debt and credit? Do too many kids think credit is money and debt is good? If we don't teach them the advertisers will, and that seems to be a large part of the problem. There is a constant stream of advertisements telling media viewers to pay off their bills with a home loan or consolidation loan. Many young people do not understand that this is debt replacement, NOT debt payoff. And in most cases, the debt replacement is much worse than the original loan.

Another example of debt management for young adults comes from their own high debt parents, and parents who just feel they need to spoil their kids rotten with things they can't afford. The alternative is to teach them the true value of the American dollar and the limitations of credit.

The entire blame does not go to advertisers, and parents can't teach what they don't practice. Too many parents are knee deep in debt themselves, they confuse debt with money and don't pay their bills on time. Thus, creating a vicious cycle of high debt and poor credit through example.

Students are getting cell phones and credit cards they don't pay for, and home phones turned off before they even know a credit report exist. So when they graduate from college with school loans, high credit card balances, and unpaid bills, they only qualify for the highest interest rates on car loans and home loans, if they are lucky enough to get a car or home at all. The vicious cycle continues and worsens.

Is there a solution to this vicious cycle? My recommendation is that high schools and colleges include a full Credit and Debt Management Personal Finance course as a required segment of their curriculum. This requirement should start with colleges that charge high tuition and have a large percentage of students graduating with thousands of dollars in school loan debt. As far as parents are concerned, more parents need to learn what a budget is and lead by example.

Lois Center-Shabazz is the author of the 3-time award winning book, Let's Get Financial Savvy, and the founder of the personal finance website, MsFinancialSavvy.com.

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